9/19/16

REVOLUTION: SEASON 1 - REVIEW


From executive producers J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau, Revolution was a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series from 2012 set after the power inexplicably goes out in the world leaving it in a permanent blackout as America's leadership is completely reshuffled and a resistance grows.

Revolution presents a big concept with a lot of potential and the previews for this show looked like a lot of fun. With the involvement of Abrams and the usually reliable Billy Burke, this certainly ticked all right boxes. The Pilot episode, directed by Favreau himself, introduces us to the main characters and this new post-power world rather well as America finds itself divided with the North-Eastern coast being run by intimidating dictator Monroe (David Lyons). When scientist Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), who was involved in the mess that led to the power being turned off, is killed by the Monroe Republic militia and his son Danny (Graham Rogers) is kidnapped, his headstrong daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) sets off to find her estranged uncle Miles (Billy Burke) to help save Danny from the hands of the sociopathic Monroe. Miles is reluctant to help at first but he is soon onboard and the two of them set off on a long journey to Philadelphia where they believe Danny is being taken.

Other main characters include Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth), an ex-Google executive and Nora Clayton (Daniella Alonso), one of the rebels who eventually helps out Miles. Giancarlo Esposito, mostly known for his chilling turn in Breaking Bad, takes on one of the main villain roles as the militia's Captain Tom Neville. Buying the high concept of a show like this is essential if you're going to sit through a lot of it and, unfortunately, Revolution is never convincing. This is partly due to the surprisingly humourless tone of the show and the ridiculous nature of the whole thing. It's quite obvious, right off the bat, that the power going out would probably not lead to the world turning into a silly Robin Hood-esque type of scenario. And, just when you're almost ready to believe that it makes sense, the show suddenly throws something completely random at you like magic computer chips capable of fixing broken bones. Using the same gimmicks as Lost in that the story often resorts to flashback scenes for character development, Revolution comes off as derivative and not all that original when it could have easily been an intriguing new sci-fi series.

Part of the problem with this show is the plot feels constantly distracted from itself with big setups falling flat like the few times Monroe and Miles finally face-off and pointless filler episodes like the one where everyone starts to hallucinate due to lack of oxygen or the one where they help out a bunch of kids for no reason. Maybe Revolution's vision of the future was never quite fully worked out which might explain why this first Season feels almost written on the fly, episode by episode. The fact that the cast is extremely uneven doesn't help either: Tracy Spiridakos' Charlie is bland, whiny and frankly dislikable, Nora and Aaron are never interesting and Billy Burke looks like he's bored out of his mind. Luckily, both Monroe and Tom Neville are great characters but it's always a bad sign when you're rooting for the villains over the heroes. Still, they're effective enough to hold your interest throughout and Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Charlie's mother, does a decent job in a badass role.

While hardly the worst thing on television, Revolution is still a disappointment as you'd expect better from all involved. This was a show with a lot of potential but not the sharp, creative writing and strong performances to back it up plus visually it offers nothing new. You might want to skip this one and re-watch Lost instead, or 24 even since most of that show's cast is in Revolution.

Cult dud.

9/16/16

THE COMEDIANS - REVIEW


In 2015, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad co-starred in The Comedians, a mockumentary series following the collaboration of two mismatched actors in a TV sketch comedy show and their love/hate relationship off-camera.

Like a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show and Extras, The Comedians is instantly derivative in that it's your typical improv-heavy behind-the-scenes type of show where you see the two leads clash and deal with various awkward situations then talk to the camera about it. This is intercut with silly sketches from the show being portrayed in the series. Crystal and Gad may not be the obvious choice for a team, which might explain the low ratings, yet they quickly prove that they are a worthy comedy duo and the show is surprisingly effective. It's refreshing to see Billy Crystal enjoying himself playing a purposely more flawed character and Gad adds another level to his usual schtick by showing a lot of improvisational talent, great timing and solid acting chops.

The Comedians sees Crystal pitch a project to the network which would involve him playing literally every role in a sketch comedy but when he is told that it would be overkill, they suggest Josh Gad as a co-star. Their styles being radically different, this leads to various disagreements and the show's director Larry Charles (who also directs most the season's episodes) is fired on the first day. The best parts come when Crystal and Gad step on each others' toes as it's a lot of fun to see these guys bicker and have a sense of humour about themselves. They are portrayed as being pretty selfish throughout but the show never lets them become dislikable and, in fact, several episodes include some genuinely sweet moments like "Billy's Birthday" or "Partners", the finale.

The goofy nature of the sketch show's material contrasts really well with the more subtle behind-the-scenes antics and it's great to see both Crystal and Gad in an edgier, more modern type of show. It's just a shame that there isn't something more unique about it. The excellent leads and supporting cast, Stephnie Weir is particularly good as the off-beat producer, make The Comedians a really funny show from start to finish and it's a pity that it wasn't renewed because this was a series with some great set-ups, sharp writing and a winning relationship at its heart. The problem with FX is that it almost has too many good comedy shows going on with the likes of Louie and Archer always doing well so some are going to inevitably get left behind.

It may not have received the success it aimed for and it was probably too derivative for its own good but The Comedians deserved better. This is a really enjoyable, at times hilarious little show with plenty of potential and two talented leads who are always fun to watch at its helm. If you like the shows it resembles then you'll no doubt have a great time with this underrated gem.

Marvelous.

9/14/16

THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION - REVIEW


Written and directed by Woody Allen, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is an old-fashioned comedy thriller about an insurance investigator who is hypnotized into stealing priceless jewels and then unknowingly investigates his own thefts.

Released in 2001, the crime comedy was originally a flop with the 1940's setting making it the most expensive of Allen's films at that point. Since then, however, the film has gained some cult recognition from fans of the director's work. This really feels like a project which would have made more sense had it been released around the same time as Broadway Danny Rose and Shadows And Fog with its dated look and sense of humour because it's not exactly the kind of genre that was in vogue back in 2001. The plot is based on a clever premise with a lot of potential: two people who hate each other are revealed to, in fact, be in love deep down but are then manipulated into committing crimes by a creepy hypnotist. Reminiscent of The Purple Rose Of Cairo in that it's a rather "magical" premise set in the early 20th century, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion may not have come out at the right time but it sure sounded like a great idea.

For the most part, the film really does work with Allen and Helen Hunt selling their characters' love/hate relationship really well and the gimmicky premise providing a lot of clever misunderstandings as the clueless investigator confidently gathers evidence against himself, slowly but surely leading himself down a destructive path. Unfortunately, the story doesn't develop as much as it could and the ending is rushed and unsatisfying: the bad guy is disposed off far too easily and the whole hypnotism thing is so inconsistent it ends up feeling completely unconvincing. Similarly to Hollywood Ending, Allen wasn't originally going to cast himself in the lead role and he would be the first to admit that not hiring someone younger was a mistake as it would have made the scenes with him and Charlize Theron's intimidating femme fatale far less distracting.

While nowhere near one of the director's best, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is still an entertaining watch thanks to a witty script, fun performances and a nifty premise. Had the plot been a bit more focused, this could have been a gem but, as it stands, it's amusing at best.

Uneven, if harmless.

COMIC BOOK MEN: SEASON 2 - REVIEW


After the first season of Comic Book Men opened the doors of the Secret Stash comic-book store to television for all to see, AMC soon went ahead with a second season with Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan, Mike Zapcic, Ming Chen and Bryan Johnson all returning.

This time, the show would be spread out over 16 episodes instead of just 6, each of them half the length of what they were in the last season. And although this meant a more rushed pace and less time with the Stash gang, Season 2 did well to manage this new format by not over-crowding and overloading the episodes. In terms of guest appearances, there are thankfully not too many with Jason Mewes popping up in a couple of episodes and the season ending with Walt meeting some veteran Jersey Devils hockey players. The highlight guests-wise has to be Stan Lee who shows up at the Stash for a photo-shoot and answers some of the cast's geekiest questions. It's a fun tribute to Lee and comic-book fans should really enjoy the few times he appears during this season.

Stories-wise, the show certainly gets more creative this time around as we see Ming and Mike get married Fantastic Four-style, the Stash hosting a kids' birthday party, the cast going head-to-head when trying to make the perfect sandwich and everyone playing charades in the store. The best of the bunch, arguably, is the episode where everyone pulls their resources to organize an auction to raise money for an old customer's medical bills along with Ming and Mike's zombie charity run and the creation of Walt and Bryan's comic-book The Cryptozoic Man. While a few episodes in this season come off as a little bit out of place (the sandwich, the Asteroids arcade game), some of the stories are anti-climactic and the shorter running time means less interactions between the staff, this is still a solid, fun season with plenty of enjoyably nerdy moments and dark humour from Walt and Bryan.

It's a testament to the people involved that the show still works after the significant change in running time as you get a decent balance between seeing these friends joke around, the transactions and the gimmicky stunts. Fans of the first season should have a great time with this one.

Worthy follow-up.

9/13/16

TOP GUN - REVIEW


As if the 80's weren't already 80's enough, in 1986 we got the most patriotic, corniest blockbuster imaginable: Top Gun. Directed by Tony Scott, the film starred Tom Cruise in his then most bankable role and followed cocky fighter jet pilot Maverick as he starts training with the best of the best.

If you ever wondered why Michael Bay sets all his films at sunset, the answer is Top Gun as pretty much every scene in Scott's movie takes place in front of a golden sky. We first meet Maverick (Cruise) and his friend Goose (Anthony Edwards) as they show off their bold yet reckless flying and manage to save a panicking pilot who would have otherwise crashed. Because apparently mixed messages are an old navy favourite, they are told off then promoted and sent to the Top Gun school of awesome pilot douchebags where their confident, playful attitude is quickly rejected and criticised before Maverick proves himself worthy. There, they meet alpha-douche Iceman (Val Kilmer), who constantly ridicules the newbies with a s**t-eating grin and Maverick soon develops a romance with Kelly McGillis' civilian instructor Charlie, not knowing who she was initially.

This being a Tony Scott film, the film is undeniably gorgeous-looking. Every shot looks like it was varnished to perfection and dipped in honey including all the fighter jet footage which is still impressive to this day. Add to that a catchy soundtrack packed with hits like Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" and Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" and you've got yourself an understandably popular blockbuster. And yet, one wonders if the same film would sell any tickets if it was made today, without Tom Cruise. Not that it's bad but it's certainly nowhere near as good as what the absurdly high box-office results would have you believe. While beautifully shot, those jet scenes are often incomprehensible and, unless you're a wannabe fighter pilot yourself, I can't see anyone really caring all that much about those sequences or the mostly obnoxious characters flying said jets.

Plot-wise, Top Gun is paper thin and is about as predictable as it gets. Though the sudden death of one particular character is admittedly surprising, you never doubt for a second that Maverick will somehow heroically save the day in the end and earn the respect of even his most reluctant team mates. It's essentially every sports movie ever made but with planes. On the plus side, Cruise is effortlessly charismatic, as ever, and the macho-ness of it all makes the film pretty entertaining from start to finish. Whether it's the testosterone bouncing off the walls during the classroom/locker-room scenes or that thoroughly homoerotic topless beach volleyball sequence, there's enough camp and cheese in there to keep those who couldn't care less about jets amused. Other cast members worth sticking around for include Michael Ironside, Tom Skerritt and Meg Ryan.

If it's a fun Tom Cruise film you're looking for, then you could do a lot worse than Top Gun as it remains a visually stunning, if painfully 80's, action film like no other. You could, however, do a lot better as even car-themed clone Days Of Thunder attempts to tell an involving, memorable story with likeable characters.

I feel the need, the need for Speed!

(that's a much better movie)

9/11/16

FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK - REVIEW


Partly a project started by Adam Nimoy and his father focused on the Spock character's conception and cinematic journey, partly a crowdfunded homage to the late actor, For The Love Of Spock is a new documentary tribute with a lot to say and a lot of heart.

Chronicling the impact of Star Trek, the birth of Spock and the ups and downs of Leonard Nimoy's career, the film takes great care to touch upon different aspects of the actor's journey from his films to his family life, other interests like directing, theatre or photography and what he and his iconic character means to the fans. A lot of emphasis is put into showing how all kinds of fans have gravitated towards the stoic Vulcan from the 60's to today as we get interviews from cosplayers, celebrities (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jason Alexander) and NASA employees who all explain what the character means to them. Of course, the key members from the Original Series' cast are all there to talk about on and off-set shenanigans and their relationship with Leonard Nimoy.

The documentary does a good job at juggling the actor's personal and public life and, as a celebration of his life and work, For The Love Of Spock works really well. You definitely learn a lot about who Leonard Nimoy was and the TV and film clips selected are all excellent, especially those showing the actor's early work where you see him at his most versatile playing heroes, villains, tough guys, Native Americans, the list goes on. There are surprising omissions like his chilling turn in Columbo, his underrated return to TV sci-fi in Fringe, Star Trek V and VI. Even Star Trek III barely gets a mention which is particularly strange since it's literally called The Search For Spock and includes one of the most memorable Spock stories. A couple of fashion-themed montages and interviews with Big Bang Theory cast and crew-members could have easily been cut to make room for those.

Some of the main highlights include footage of Nimoy playfully reading an early bad review of Star Trek, a look at the progression of the Spock character through J.J. Abrams' reboot and Adam Nimoy reading through a powerful letter written by his father. The tone of the film is more light-hearted than you'd expect and it's genuinely a lot of fun to revisit some of the best and goofiest movies and TV series Leonard Nimoy was involved in. The idea that he just got bored with Mission: Impossible is both very funny and believable when you see the limited range of characters he was asked to play. By the end, there are some sadder moments, some dealing with the actor's passing, some with Adam Nimoy's own personal challenges but, ultimately, you're left on a positive note, which is fitting.

All in all, this is a very good and moving tribute to an extremely talented actor who marked his generation by introducing us to one of the most recognisable and likeable characters of all time in probably the most iconic, impactful television show out there. Leonard Nimoy was truly one of the greats and full marks go to Adam Nimoy for putting together such a valid tribute.

Fascinating.

Popular Posts